Monday, February 16, 2004

Worker-Owned Home Health Care

Interesting article in the NY Times about a worker owned home-health care company and the difference between the way it treats its employers vs. the traditional for-profit firms
"There were no benefits, no nothing,'' Ms. Pillot said. "They didn't care about you, and if you had a family problem, like my son having asthma, you had to take care of it yourself.''

But she is far happier since she landed a job with one of the nation's most successful worker-owned companies, a home health agency in the South Bronx that has won widespread acclaim for how it treats its 780 employees. Her agency, Cooperative Home Care Associates, is unusual not just because it is employee-owned - workers can buy one share of the company - but also because many management analysts and health care professionals are studying it as a model for other low-wage workers.

"The worker is at the center of everything we do,'' said Michael Elsas, Cooperative's president. "Everything else revolves around that."

Cooperative generally pays its workers 20 percent more than other New York home care agencies do. Its workers get $6.80 to $9.50 per hour, with the average at $8.60. It gives aides comprehensive health insurance and what is considered the best training program in the business, providing at least four weeks of training (most agencies provide two weeks).

Many home care agencies charge new employees $300 for training, while Cooperative provides it free, an important sweetener considering that two-thirds of its aides used to be on welfare.

Cooperative subsidizes its employees if they want to take college courses to become nurses. It guarantees aides at least 30 hours of work a week, while many other agencies give their aides only 15 or 20 hours, far too little for them to live on.

If Cooperative's workers arrive late to their home care cases because of child-care problems, the agency's counselors help employees track down child care. When workers have a complaint, they can easily arrange a one-on-one meeting with Cooperative's president.
And to top it off, they just organized with SEIU, which should prove "interesting."
So now the union representing health workers is supposed to bargain with the company owned by health workers. That makes management uneasy, and not only because Cooperative already provides better wages and benefits than most other agencies. [Board Chairman Rick] Surpin warns that it might be hard for Cooperative to adhere to multiyear pacts and to match percentage raises given by agencies that pay less.

"We present a problem for the union, and the union presents a problem for us,'' Mr. Surpin said. "But the union has come to see that we're dead serious about doing what's best for the workers.''

Officials at 1199 agree that it can be an awkward pas de deux.